Negro History week would be celebrating it’s 91st year of existence today. It was created by Carter G. Woodson in 1926 as a way to celebrate the accomplishments of African Americans and chosen to be celebrated in February in order to acknowledge the birthdays of Frederick Douglass (2/14) and Abraham Lincoln (2/12). Negro Week was expanded to the entire month in 1976 by President Gerald R. Ford to, “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
But that’s not what I want to cover today. I want to talk about the complexity of celebrating Black History Month. The key word being CELEBRATION.
So this past Saturday, my good friend and I set off to celebrate Black History Month at The Brooklyn Museum Target First Saturday Celebration. We arrived to music in the lobby, people dancing and clapping and being festive. As we walked in to check our coats we were handed the program for the night. We scanned it. We looked at each other. We took a deep sigh and looked at each other again. And then my girlfriend said, “Let’s go get a drink.”
What was the problem you asked?
We could listen to the music in the lobby, or we could watch, SHE a choreoplay about sexual violence, Sandra Bland and healing, or we could watch the film, Fit the description which documents a conversation between Black Male Citizens and Black Male Police Officers, or take pictures and be placed into the storyline of a graphic novel.
Okay, can anyone tell me what about this lineup is celebratory?
Oh, we get to listen to music in the lobby.
Let me explain something. February is for love and celebration and joy and unapologetic blackness and beauty. We are supposed to be on fire and living in the light during February. I mean, I am about this celebratory light every day of every month but I get extra special during February.
The other 11 months of the year, I’m all about dissecting our issues, mourning our losses, and examining our oppression.
But I did NOT come to the museum to watch a choreoplay about sexual violence or investigate who fits the description.
I’ve been hearing teachers tell me that they’re watching 13th with their class this month, they’re reading slave narratives, they’re looking at the lives of our heroes, but usually from an “I overcame oppression” point of view.
Listen people, for the last time, it’s supposed to be a celebration. We can celebrate Blackness and joy and love and dopeness and success outside of oppression!
The Root gave us ONE HUNDRED Black folk who we can celebrate who are doing the damn thing, right now. We gave you the NAACP Spingarn awards. Shoot you can use this month to celebrate our Orishas; that one might scare you. Lol. Use music, use film, use art, use comedy, use drama, use science, use math, use discovery as the lens through which you celebrate Black folk.
Here’s my theory: people, as in teachers, don’t celebrate Black History Month because it makes them feel guilty. Because we don’t celebrate, we commiserate.
Please keep this at the center of your thoughts as you continue to plan for the rest of this month.
This is a celebration of us.
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